Cape Elizabeth school budget up 2.4%; 'welcoming' resolve hits speed bump

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The town and School Department will be on the same page figuratively and digitally when the School Board presents its fiscal year 2018 budget to the Town Council Finance Committee April 25. 

The School Board adopted a $24.8 million budget at its April 11 meeting, up from this year’s $24.2 million, a 2.4 percent increase. 

For the school portion of a property owner’s total tax bill, it’s a potential 4.4 percent tax increase. Homeowners can expect to see the school tax be about $13 per $1,000 valuation for school services.  

The April 25 meeting begins at 7 p.m. in Town Council chambers at 320 Ocean House Road. Unlike previous years, the meeting will be videotaped to allow for later viewing. 

Meanwhile, a school issue with town implications remains to be worked out.

At the April 10 Town Council meeting, Woodcrest Road resident Jim Sparks addressed the council about adopting a resolution “welcoming all people.”

School Board Vice Chairwoman and Belfield Road resident Susana Measelle Hubbs stood next to Sparks. Interim Superintendent Howard Colter listened from the audience. 

Sparks and Hubbs are two residents of the Cape Diversity Coalition.

The resolution would send a message, Sparks said, that “we are not neutral about the right of our residents to be treated with dignity and live without fear.”

That message stems from a fight in November 2016 on school grounds between a group of middle school students as a high school football game between Cape Elizabeth and Wells played out nearby. Some statements made between the students were culturally charged; adults stepped in and the fight was broken up. 

Colter said he heard about the fight and did not know if the students involved were disciplined. The incident became a teachable moment in the middle school.

What arose from the skirmish was the coalition’s formation. Now, it wants to take things a step further, urging the Town Council to adopt the resolution that, among other things, officially welcomes people regardless of race, religion, nationality, immigration status, gender or sexual orientation; condemns hate, violence or discrimination; assures protection against discrimination, and encourages public dialogue.

The resolution, introduced by Councilor Sara Lennon, was positively received, yet councilors became concerned a precedent could be set if it was formally adopted as submitted.

“I don’t disagree with this direction on an agenda item,” Councilor Penny Jordan said. “I think that the council could take this into a workshop and review the wording of the agenda item.”

Working it through could lead us “to achieve what we want to achieve,” she said. 

Feedback could be sought, too, from the community, Councilor Katharine Ray pointed out.

“The immigration status piece is concerning to me,” Ray said. “I think the school has proactively addressed the issue. I do question the council’s role in this.”

She also said the council runs the risk of “leaving someone out.”

“I agree, too, we need to take it to workshop,” Councilor Caitlin Jordan said. 

Councilors decided to review the resolution and determine how to proceed at a later date, and will seek input from Police Chief Neil Williams.

Lisa D. Connell can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or Follow Lisa on Twitter: connell_ld.

Cape Elizabeth resident Jim Sparks on April 10 urges the Town Council to adopt a resolution “welcoming all people,” as School Board Vice Chairwoman Susana Measelle Hubbs and interim Superintendent of Schools Howard Colter, foreground, listen.